Zdraveĭ, guys! That, for anyone wondering, is what Google Translate has informed me ‘hello’ is in Bulgarian (meaning there’s a good chance it actually translates to ‘I can see your underpants’ or something like that). But it’s the thought that counts, and I’m definitely thinking I’d rather say hi than say anything in reference to your underpants…unless Måns Zelmerlöw is reading this, of course.
Ahem. Moving right along now. Believe it or not, Bulgaria’s first Eurovision event – Junior Eurovision 2015, obviously – will take place in just over two weeks’ time. As such, I need to kick my pre-show coverage into high (or, really, any) gear. Today I’m doing just that by unveiling installment numero uno of my JESC reviews for the year.
But these aren’t just my reviews. As I did for EBJ’s ESC reviews earlier this year LINK, I’ve put together a globe-spanning jury who are ready to slide all seventeen songs competing in Sofia under their musical microscopes (I shipped one out to everybody, which got very expensive) in order to determine which ones deserve douze points, and which ones…well, don’t (let’s leave it at that. Someone has to think of the children!). Each of these JESC Judgment posts will see three ESC and/or JESC fanatics (including yours truly, as I wasn’t prepared to relinquish complete control) comment on and score each entry – revolutionary, I know. Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of said commenting and scoring, allow me to introduce the first trio of jury members.
TODAY’S EBJ JUNIOR JURY
Lukman ‘What do you get when you mix sugar and spice and everything nice with a teaspoon of Eurovision? Well, it makes me, Lukman! I’ve been following the most fantastic show on Earth since 2001, when my sister asked me to watch the show with her on SBS. Funnily enough, I became the Eurovision fan, while she despises it! I’ve also been watching the Junior version since it first started in 2003, and to this day, still follow it. I remember the early days when it used to have a strong focus on colours, cuteness and tackiness, and the children themselves would be the main composers of the songs. Junior Eurovision is about fun, letting the talented children of Europe show the world what they can do. I guess it’s a great platform for their future in the entertainment industry. My favourite Junior Eurovision songs ever include Te Traigo Flores by Antonio José, Te Doy Mi Voz by Dani Fernández, and Planet of the Children by Krisia, Hasan and Ibrahim. I’m so excited that Jaz invited me to review some of the Junior Eurovision songs selected for 2015!’
Jaimie Duncan Jaimie is a Eurovision tragic who longs to own a wind machine of her own (there are days when a pedestal fan is just not enough). She finds the idea of Junior Eurovision simultaneously appealing and unsettling, and tends to drink and yell at the television when watching it – and sometimes when reviewing the songs as well.
Jaz ‘Surprise, surprise – it’s ME! You’re probably aware that I devote almost as much brain-space to Junior Eurovision as to its older, wiser sibling, and have done since I stumbled upon them both in 2006. As someone who nearly had a breakdown when JESC went through its rough, could-be-cancelled-at-any-minute patch a few years back, I got ridiculously excited seeing it bounce back and become bigger and better than…well, maybe not ever, but it’s pretty awesome these days, right? If I could magic any non-competing country into the competition this year and for the future, it’d be Spain. They rocked at JESC from 2003-2006, and left on a high…meaning they could return on a high too. See you in 2016, amigos?’
So now you’ve seen our incredibly attractive faces and know our names, go ahead and check out what we think of the JESC 2015 efforts from Armenia, Montenegro, the Netherlands and Serbia. Don’t worry, Mika, Jana, Shalisa and Lena – we haven’t been too hard on you…
Lukman Armenia is one of the powerhouses of Junior Eurovision, and their entries are always catchy, fun and a bit out-of-the-box. Mika is such a big personality and a born star, and if the Armenians can stage a wonderful, exciting and suitable performance as they always do, he will finish on the first half of the scoreboard. I admire the entry as it is age-appropriate, compared to some younger singers singing songs more suitable for adults. The song itself is cute and cheeky, and more of a song to watch than to listen to. The verses and choruses are not the most memorable and not the most original; however, the song is about spreading love, fun and happiness. A serious contender for the win? Well, maybe not…but it will definitely be one to watch. Good luck Mika! 6 points.
Jaimie Has everyone seen 10-year-old George Dalton’s viral cover of Trap Queen yet? If you haven’t, watch it – it’s a weirdly mesmerising, Scott Bradlee-style reimagining. It’s also deeply disturbing when you consider that the original Fetty Wap song is about a girl who cooks meth, not apple pie. I have to admit that when I first heard Armenia’s JESC entry, my first thought was ‘Oh look, it’s the Armenian George Dalton. Except cooler. And with a love gun. Wait… what?’. The music video is hard to decode (where is the first location? Dr Love’s Evil Lair? Some sort of call centre? Santa’s Workshop? Why are they wearing 60s sci-fi costumes?. I feel I should learn this dance. At least the guy driving is grown up. OMG, THAT’S WHAT ARAM MP3 IS UP TO NOW? Should we be encouraging the shooting of love-nerf from a moving vehicle? Uh, you do know what happens when dogs “fall in love” right? Oh, he’s a motivational speaker. Or a supervillain. That makes so much more sense. God, this is weird.) What the video does offer is some clues about staging which could be a completely fabulous little retro revival as long as Mika leaves the love gun at home. Coming from a default position of finding JESC just a little creepy, I worry about how much I love this song…and what that says about me as a human. 10 points.
Jaz Armenia certainly know what they’re doing when it comes to JESC, and they’ve demonstrated that they mean business yet again by relegating Aram Mp3 to chauffeur status in Mika’s music video for the happy clappy Love. To put things simply, I like this song – I like it a lot. I wouldn’t say I feel the Love just yet, but this is the kind of effortless, retro-mod pop that a) puts me in a great mood, and b) tends to succeed at Junior Eurovision (see Russia 2006 or 2010 if you’re after a prime example). Mika is adorable and in possession of inordinate amounts of sass and swag for a kid his age. I have no doubt that he’ll have more than a pint-sized amount of stage presence to carry him through in Sofia. And, as Lukman said, Armenia never fail to put on an impressive performance, so expect top-notch costuming, props, lighting and choreography to accompany him. With all of that at their disposal – plus a catchy, fun track that is weaker than their previous, but is also competing in a far weaker field – Armenia could be dangerous to all sixteen of their rivals (though that’s partly due to the fact that they’re armed with those love guns). 8 points.
EBJ Junior Jury Score 8.00
Lukman Let me start by stating that Oluja is a decent song and has a wonderful story in the video clip. I just feel that the song is a teeny bit outdated, and not particularly suited to Jana. The melody isn’t memorable, and there is just no hook. The chorus could be a bit stronger and a little more likeable. I really hope they have a strong and fun routine planned, which could help the song out. I would have loved to have heard some Balkan instruments in the song, or even stronger instrumentation. Sadly, as it is, Oluja has no ‘wow’ factor, but I’m sure Jana’s vocals will be awesome on the night! 4 points.
Jaimie So, the story of this song appears to be quite simple (I have to base this on the video clip as I am hampered by language here). Two kids, having run away from a folk festival of some kind, play a completely inept game of hide and seek which ends when the girl nicks the boy’s scarf and runs off with it, presumably to more fully embrace her new life of crime. Flash forward, and the boy, having grown a staggeringly majestic set of cheekbones, is still moping about the countryside missing his scarf. The girl, having grown into a Dolly magazine model and renounced her life as a criminal mastermind, runs into him in a field. He’s so pleased at having his scarf back, he hugs her, not realising she’s plucked his wallet out of his pocket. It’s a classic romance. It’s also boring and forgettable, and cannot possibly move into the top half of the board without this girl’s organised crime connections fixing the vote (possibly having been bribed with the scarf). 5 points.
Jaz Lucky it’s Throwback Thursday, because Jana’s Oluja is one heck of a #tbt to the JESC days of yore – not that I mind much. I had a feeling Montenegro were going to BRING IT on their second shot at Junior, so in that sense, I was disappointed when this cookie-cutter, half-hearted attempt at ethno-pop dropped. But it’s amazing what a second listen can do! I still think Jana is putting as much energy into her vocals as Maša & Lejla did into their performance in Malta (i.e. not much at all…is Montenegro suffering from a sugar shortage or something?) which detracts from the sunny vibrancy of the melody. Nor do I think her song makes the most of its almost-three minutes (is that extended instrumental break necessary?). However, I don’t mind having a dance to it at this point. Oluja really does reek of JESC circa 2005, and though that’s fine by me because I loved (and still love) those contests, it might not help Montenegro improve on last year’s mediocre result. I’m interested to see how this is presented, and how Jana comes across live (will she have to have a Loïc Nottet-style lie down halfway through because she’s so lethargic?). My fingers will be crossed that it’s at least competent on both of those counts. 7 points.
EBJ Junior Jury Score 5.33
Lukman Shalisa is a very talented singer with great stage presence. I really like the verses, which sound really lovely to the ear. Unfortunately, I don’t find the chorus as strong. I appreciate it is beautiful, but it’s not catchy and not too memorable. Despite the chorus not being catchy enough I appreciate that the song is high quality, contemporary and filled with lots of emotions, feelings and passion. I hope she sticks to singing whilst playing the piano because it may give her the edge, and also shows off what she can do! 6 points.
Jaimie Eh. I don’t hate it. I don’t “love” it as much as the Armenian song. Shalisa looks like a young Natalie Portman which is intriguing, and I like her hat. Million Lights is pretty clinical. It provokes no feeling. It’s safe and pleasant. It’ll probably win. 6 points for the hat.
Jaz The Netherlands is another one of those countries that seem to ‘get’ JESC without always proving themselves to have the same understanding of the ESC. Year after year, they send something polished, well-produced and contemporary to mini-Eurovij, and 2015 is no exception. Million Lights is a pretty ballad with Rihanna-esque r & b influences, sung beautifully by Shalisa (who’s emanating Emilija Đjonin vibes)…but it’s not the total package. It’s a song that seems to get lost in itself, with awkward switches from Dutch to English and vice versa contributing to the choruses being hard to single out; and it doesn’t really build up to much – not enough to demand votes, anyway. I’m not sure it’s cohesive or memorable enough to squeeze onto the left-hand side of the scoreboard. It is melodically douze-worthy, though, and I enjoy all the different bits and pieces within. This is a genre that’s right up my street, and there’s something about this example of it that draws me in, in spite of some obvious flaws. 8 points.
EBJ Junior Jury Score 6.67
Lukman An absolutely beautiful song represents Serbia at this year’s Junior Eurovision – but saying that, I do lean towards Balkan songs. I really like the melody, and the chorus is very emotional and dramatic. I wish the instrumentation was a bit stronger as the song is missing a bit of oomph that it needs. My idea would be to throw in a few more instruments that would remedy that; however, I do like the inclusion of ethnic sounds in the song. I guess they could be going for simple instrumentation. The song does sound slightly outdated but I still love it. Lena is such a powerful singer and has been gifted with a really sweet voice. I am 100% sure she will sing well on the night! Good luck Lena! 7 points.
Jaimie Sigh. This is why I find the Junior contest so unsettling. I know kids. I’ve met some. I don’t know any of them who would get this passionate about things that aren’t Pokémon or pizza night at the roller rink or how their brother keeps stealing the Wii remote when it’s clearly not his turn. I do know an eight-year-old who stopped speaking for three days when Zayn left One Direction though, so I’m not saying that kids can’t harbour strong feelings about things. Perhaps Lena is super stoked about getting 10 out of 10 on a spelling test, but I rather think this song is about her self-empowerment instead (I’m guessing). This is no bad thing, really. I’m trying to be sympathetic. But here’s why I disconnect from JESC – I’m a grown-up. I’ve forgotten what the passions of childhood are like, whether they are about Pokémon or about realising you’re a complete person on your own, and I can’t help but wonder how many of the passionate words coming out of these child performers’ mouths have been put there by adult songwriters who have also forgotten. I want to take it seriously, because Lena’s obviously a good performer and I don’t want to do her a disservice, but I just can’t. I’m too cynical…and she’s no Mika. 6 points.
Jaz YES! A dramatic Balkan ballad! It’s almost like my main man Željko Joksimović will be with us in spirit in Sofia – although Lenina Pesma is even more drama-packed than the majority of his Eurovision compositions (which is really saying something). Unlike Million Lights, this is a song that builds up to something big, and doesn’t relent until the very end – or until Lena’s run out of oxygen and passes out on stage, one of the two. This girl might be miniature, but she has a massive voice that’s sure to impress on the night, assuming she can sustain it throughout the rehearsal period. She should sound strong, and Lenina Pesma won’t just be a showcase for her voice – it holds its own, and is sure to be a more memorable presence in the line-up than Serbia’s song was last year. It’s not exactly cutting-edge, but Balkan ballads don’t need to be – they’re timeless. This is on track to do rather well, as long as Serbia don’t overdo the staging (an atmospheric lighting scheme and a couple of dancers would do just fine). All in all, this is an excellent choice. 7 points.
EBJ Junior Jury Score 6.67
And just like that, there’s four songs done and dusted, leaving thirteen un-judged. Let’s have a look at the EBJJJ leaderboard at this early stage (which includes a tie I’ve broken on countback of individual scores):
- Armenia (8.00)
- The Netherlands (6.67)
- Serbia (6.67)
- Montenegro (5.33)
With no douze points doled out yet, will Armenia stay in prime position? Or will one of the next four countries to be placed in the spotlight take the title of Most Likely To Win According To The EBJ Junior Jury’s Totally Scientific Calculations? You can speculate on that as I let you know that Italy, Malta, Russia and Slovenia are up next. They’ll be reviewed by not one, but two returnees from my May ESC jury – James from the UK, and my mum (yep, Mrs. Jaz is back, and she didn’t even need to be bribed into it…much).
Join us then for more JESC-themed shenanigans, or be square!